Wales vs Ireland preview, betting tips and prediction: Bale absence could make impact but Wales will progress
Score draw @ 7/2 with Betfair
Wales to win 2-1 @ 17/2 with Betfair
Draw HT/Wales FT @ 4/1 with Betfair
Wales face the Republic of Ireland in a likely showdown for second place in their World Cup qualifying group and a place in the playoffs. Chris Coleman’s side, minus injured talisman Gareth Bale, can still win the group if results go their way, but they are in pole position to reach the next stage and maintain the best chance of qualification, ahead of the team coached by Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.
The last meeting, in Dublin, ended in a draw, and these teams are very well matched, especially with no Bale. Coming into the game, Wales are in the better shape having overtaken Ireland into second place last month; three consecutive wins have continued their unbeaten streak through the group and they are a point ahead of Ireland and a point behind Serbia heading into this final game. Ireland broke a run of four games without a win by overcoming Moldova on Friday, but they may find the atmosphere hard to handle in Cardiff and there is no doubting Wales come into this game as favourites.
But in Daryl Murphy, the Nottingham Forest striker, Ireland have a player in real form. He scored two against Moldova to win the game and has netted six times in the Championship this season. He could lead Ireland to victory, but the most likely outcome is a draw. Wales will be cautious in defence because they only need a point to clinch second, and they have the best defensive record in the group, conceding just five goals. Ireland have scored 11, the fewest of the top four, and away from home they could find it tough. The draw at 5/2 is decent value, but there is more added by backing both teams to score.
It will be a tight, nervy affair for both sides, but Wales could sense an opportunity to play on the break. This will mean they will grow into the game in the second half. As the game stretches, more space will appear an in Hal Robson-Kanu, they have pace and Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey have the ability to control the tempo and nullify the Ireland threat extensively.
Key battle: Jeff Hendrick vs Aaron Ramsey
When Bale is absent, it is vital that Ramsey steps up as the next most experienced player in the side. He did that in Georgia, helping to create chances for his teammates and controlling the tempo. He will face Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick in a battle to do the same on Monday.
Ireland are likely to press high against Ramsey which will create a different problem to the one he faced in that game. They will target the Arsenal man who will be given license to get forward by Joe Allen who will protect the back four. Hendrick will be the visitors’ chief creator but it will be tough for him to get a foothold in the game if Ramsey can repeat the performance he put in against Georgia and has done so often for Wales, including at Euro 2016 where he of course helped them to the semi finals.